You know the best foods to eat for other parts of your body: You consume lean protein when you need steady energy, good fats for healthy hair, skin, and nails, and whole grains to fill you up and keep your system running smooth.
But what foods are best for maintaining a healthy vagina? Believe it or not, what you eat really can help keep your lady bits in top shape by easing cramps, fighting infections, and alleviating dryness. On the other hand, too much of some foods can mess with you below the belt, so it’s smart to leave them off your plate as much as possible.
It’s a probiotic, meaning it contains live bacteria cultures. Varieties that contain a bacteria called Lactobacillus acidophilus may help keep the pH of the vagina in the acidic range, driving down the risk of yeast and other types of infection. Other probiotic foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir (a fermented drink similar to yogurt) might also help your vagina maintain the right pH balance, as may a probiotic supplement containing Lactobacillus acidophilus.
Concentrated cranberry juice
You’ve already heard that you should drink cranberry cocktail to prevent or ease a urinary tract infection. But the healthy-sounding sip may be less effective than most people think—and it’s often loaded with sugar too. Instead, drink concentrated cranberry juice if you’re prone to UTIs. There’s a particular ingredient in cranberry—proanthocyanidins or PAC, a type of plant compounds—that makes the bladder slippery (and therefore more resistant) to E. coli, the bacteria that’s linked to the most common type of urinary tract infection. The more you drink, the higher the likelihood that you flush out the bacteria before they breed and begin triggering telltale symptoms like pain while peeing.
Staying well hydrated helps boost energy and circulation, and it has positive benefits for your lady bits as well. Women who are experiencing vaginal dryness should drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of H2O each day. Just like dehydration can make the skin of your face or hands feel parched, skimping on water might make the skin on your vulva (the external parts of your genitalia) feel dry or itchy. Scratching that itch could make you more susceptible to infection, so don’t risk it and stay hydrated. In addition, drinking enough water is a simple way to help prevent UTIs.
A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that ginger was just as effective as ibuprofen for relieving painful period-related cramps. In the study, women took either 250 milligrams of a ginger powder in capsule form or 400 milligrams of ibuprofen, four times a day for the first three days of their periods.
Ibuprofen falls into a class of pain meds called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, which, as the name implies, fight inflammation, include some that causes period pain. Ginger is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties, so it may work to quell cramps in a similar way.
Though the study focused on ginger capsules, it can’t hurt to try adding fresh ginger to stir frys or ground ginger to homemade desserts.
Sure, a little dark chocolate can alleviate the frustration of PMS. But in general, excess sugar is not vagina-friendly. People prone to yeast infections should cut back on sweets and fruit, since sugar can promote yeast growth in the vagina. Vaginal secretions contain sugar, and yeast tends to thrive in sweet, moist environments.
Eating foods high in sugar can change the pH of your vagina, allowing for an overgrowth of yeast and other infection-causing organisms.
Even though you might want to decompress on the couch with a glass (or a bottle!) of red wine during your period, alcohol may also worsen menstrual cramps. Occasional imbibing is okay—generally, experts recommend sticking to no more than one alcoholic drink a day—but avoiding booze as much as possible is probably a good idea when it comes to keeping other female-only body parts healthy.
Studies have linked even just that limited intake of alcohol to increased breast cancer risk. While cutting out alcohol altogether doesn’t sound all that fun, it might be the smartest approach for some women, especially if they already have a high risk of breast cancer. Other women may opt to reduce their alcohol intake from one drink to a day to, say, one drink every other day.